Thoughts on Change in Liminal Space

Published on 2023-01-20 on Sebastian Mellen's Blog


I’m going to experiment with free writing for the first time in a long time. I’m in the back of an Uber right now and it’s not that I don’t want to talk to the driver, it’s just that I’m not in a huge talking mood right now. For that reason, I’m going to experiment with free writing in this altered state of consciousness… We’ll see how it goes.

To his credit, the driver is a very nice guy named James, the car is super comfortable, and I’m in a very spacious backseat with independent temperature controls. I feel like I’m in a luxury limo, perhaps the only difference being that my driver is a native Pittsburgher instead of a sort of high class ex-army person or something like that. Then again, I prefer this. So in some way this is the best I could possibly hope for.

I also just now realized how lucky I am to have such a wonderful girlfriend and to do such great things with her (like going to Switzerland). It truly is a gift to have a wonderful person like her in my life, and I can’t dismiss the importance of that. She is a gem in an often cluttered and hard to understand world. I wonder how she will work with me long-term.

Nothing that I see is the same as it used to be. Everything has changed. And that is, as the Buddha said, the nature of life. Life is a continual movement of change and the movement of change never ends. “The only thing that is permanent is change.” And that is perhaps the truest statement ever uttered.

Now, that axiom having been accepted, I suppose the most important question is which direction we are moving in as we change. Are we moving in a positive direction or a negative direction? We must always ask ourselves this question, as it is one of the most fundamental questions in life. If you are not moving forward, you are sliding backwards. If you are not ascending, you are descending. If you are not growing, you are dying. There is no stasis.

The fact that there is no stasis is an uncomfortable truth that must be accepted for life to work at all. Though uncomfortable to accept at first glance, the world is maintained by change, in the elements and in the things they compose. Those words, uttered by Marcus Aurelius, speak to an important truth: life is maintained by change. Change, therefore, is not bad at all. It is a requirement. If there were no change, there would be no life. A world without change is a world that is dead. A universe without change is a universe without time, and a universe without time is a universe without space. A universe without space is nothing. For this reason, change is a fundamental component of existence, and we should learn to embrace it fully.

There is a variable component to change, namely the speed of it. Sometimes we want things to change quickly, yet they persist in changing slowly. Sometimes we want things to change slowly, and yet they proceed with terrifying speed. The cancer patient who is dying faster day by day sees change as an enemy he cannot get rid of. The school-aged child wishing for a boring lecture to be over welcomes change but does not experience it. The truth is that all forms of change are natural (and therefore acceptable) states of the human condition. To become accepting of change is the first tenet of true maturity.

One question may arise in this consideration of change — are there forms of change that we should avoid? Or, rather, is there something solid in life to which we can attach ourselves that prevents us from experiencing the rawness of change? Perhaps friendships or relationships may offer a guide. The cynical view of human friendships and relationships is that they are coping mechanisms; evolutionary adaptations that humans have conjured to conquer the elements together and convince each other that there is some hope and stability in the world. But the non-cynical view, which is perhaps harder to understand and even harder to implement, is that true love for and attachment to another person results in a form of continual change, only that this change still offers the psychological benefit of having something permanent to bind oneself to.

Indeed, becoming bound with another person is a recipe for the greatest change, both in oneself and in one’s partner. Of course, this change can be bad, as all change can be, but it can also be very good. Some relationships progress quickly and their degree of change is dizzying, others progress slowly and are are for that reason stifling. Ideal relationships exist somewhere in the center — where the participants together act as positive agents for change in their significant other, and do so without rushing or dallying. Using this mental model, relationships and friendships become less obtuse.

Thus, disregarding qualitative features, I would posit that the quality of a relationship could be evaluated using three data points: the rate of change (fast vs slow), the angle of change (positive or negative), and the degree of equality in change among the partners (how much one partner changes vs the other). Further, I would presume that:

  1. The ideal rate of change is somewhere in between too fast and too slow,
  2. The ideal angle of change is moderately positive (an angle of change that is too positive may risk burning out, as boundless improvement in bounded time is impossible, and negative change is of course bad), and
  3. The ideal degree of equality is close to, though not exactly, 100% (about 50/50), such that both partners contribute equally to their changing of the other.


This whole blog post was written in approximately 14 minutes with minor copy-editing, using a style of writing I call “freewriting”. It is an experience of thrusting yourself into semi-conscious idea generation when in liminal spaces (such as riding in the backseat of a large comfortable Uber ride that smells slightly of old pizza and cigars during a cold Pittsburgh night).